Monday, October 31, 2016

Why now?

The intellectual history of Book of Mormon geography reflects about 100 years of intense study and debate, including the development and perpetuation of the two-Cumorahs theory and all that flows from that. Why is it only now, in 2016, that the issue is being resolved?

You can probably think of other reasons, but I boil them down to two main categories: supply and demand. I'll take them in reverse order; i.e., first I'll look at the demand for more information/clarity, then I'll look at the supply of more information/clarity.

1. Urgency (demand). Like many Latter-day Saints, I feel a sense of urgency about this issue. You probably do too. We're all concerned about the ongoing confusion that the two-Cumorahs theory sows among the Saints and among investigators. I guestimate that about 90% of active LDS accept pretty much whatever they're told about the topic; i.e., their primary, Sunday School, seminary, Institute or BYU teacher (or parents) told them the Book of Mormon took place in Central America, using Church-approved artwork, so they accept it and move on without questioning.

Around 10% question what they're told and don't believe it for any of a number of reasons.

(BTW, I think Letter VII would reverse these numbers, if it were widely known. The number of people who would question the Mesoamerican theory after reading Letter VII in the context of teachings of the modern prophets and apostles would approach 90%, which explains why the scholars and educators have suppressed Letter VII, as I've shown in my video series.)

Another reason for urgency is the societal trend toward empiricism and away from faith. In the early days of the Church, missionaries used the Bible to prove the Book of Mormon because most people believed the Bible. Now, hardly anyone believes the Bible, so that approach doesn't work. Instead, it will be the unique divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon that proves the Bible. That's the topic of a book I'm working on, but I can't publish until we LDS get our act together and agree on the historicity and geography of the Book of Mormon.

Yet another reason is the Internet, as the following scenarios illustrate. These are typical of what happens thousands of times on a regular basis.

Imagine you're not LDS and missionaries come to your door. They tell you about the Book of Mormon. You've heard about it, but don't know much about it. They leave you with the missionary edition. You thumb through the illustrations. You see Alma baptizing in a mountainous, jungle wilderness. You see Samuel preaching from the top of an enormous Mayan stone wall. You see Christ appearing to Mayans among Mayan ruins (with Chichen Itza in the background). You don't know much about ancient history, but you did learn about Mayans, and maybe you've visited Cancun, so you get the picture. You actually visited Chichen Itza and you're curious about the connection with those ruins and the Book of Mormon.

Then you start reading. 1 Nephi starts out interesting, with the family fleeing Jerusalem, but then it gets into a weird apocalyptic vision. Next are long quotation from Isaiah. You wonder where the Mayans are.

You get on the Internet and in 30 seconds, you find out the Mormons actually have no idea where the Book of Mormon events took place. Web pages explain that the first Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, said the Hill Cumorah was in New York, but the LDS scholars now say he was confused and didn't know what he was talking about. You discover that, despite the illustrations in the book the missionaries gave you, the text actually says nothing about Mayans, pyramids, or jungles. The web pages claim the Mormons can't even agree among themselves about the geography because the work is fiction written by Joseph Smith and others.

The missionaries call to confirm the next appointment and, because they're such nice, idealistic kids and you don't want to hurt their feelings, you tell them you don't have time to see them right now. They call a few more times, and you finally tell them you're not interested.

Imagine you're a missionary, and you regularly run into former Mormons and well-prepared Christians who tell you the Book of Mormon is fiction. They tell you you're wasting your time, and they refer you to the Internet to see for yourself. You don't take their advice at first, but after months of this, you and your companion decide you need to be prepared for the objections you keep encountering.

You look up FairMormon.

You find out that the anti-Mormon literature is correct.

FairMormon and the LDS scholars cited there do actually say Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Fielding Smith, etc. were speculating, didn't know what they were talking about, and were wrong. You remember what your seminary, Institute, and BYU teachers told you about Mesoamerica and now you realize for the first time that theory contradicts what Joseph, Oliver and the others said.

You read Letter VII and you're shocked you were never told about this before. You always thought it was far-fetched to believe Moroni hauled the heavy plates and other artifacts to New York from southern Mexico, but you accepted it on faith. Letter VII makes a lot more sense, but it contradicts everything your Church teachers have told you. You start to wonder: if they were wrong about the Hill Cumorah, what else were they wrong about? Soon you question everything your teachers told you. You still don't have answers for the antagonistic people you meet every day; in fact, you have more questions than answers.

You tell your companions about Letter VII. Some agree it's a problem, but most think you're an apostate for even reading something like that. Your Mission President gets angry when you ask about it and doesn't answer your questions. He says your teachers were right, and whatever this Letter VII is, it's not approved by the Church.

You return home and make excuses for missing Church meetings and before you know it, you're no longer active in the Church.
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These are just two of any number of similar scenarios that happen all the time, all around the world.

Hence, the sense of urgency. It's time for us to get our act together and stop promoting theories of geography that contradict Joseph and Oliver and the other prophets and apostles.
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2. More evidence (supply). The Joseph Smith Papers project has brought many things to light that were previously unknown. I've been following the geography debates for over 40 years. Not once did anyone tell me Joseph Smith had his scribes copy Letter VII into his own history as part of his story. (Not that anyone mentioned Letter VII at all--it has been suppressed from every Church history resource I had access to, not to mention FARMS, FairMormon, and the rest. It was available in the Times and Seasons, a set of which I purchased when I was in my 20s, but I didn't realize that.)

Thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers, we can trace all the Church history I described in The Lost City of Zarahemla, Brought to Light, and The Editors: Joseph, William, and Don Carlos Smith. I couldn't have written those books without the Joseph Smith Papers as a resource.

The newly accessible historical data has helped us distinguish between what Joseph actually taught and what was merely attributed to him. That, in turn, has eliminated much of the confusion about the issue.

[See my comments on sowing confusion here.]

We also have more evidence than ever before in terms of archaeology, anthropology, geography, and geology. More is coming out all the time.

In a real sense, faith precedes the miracle here. IMO, as more and more LDS refocus on what Joseph, Oliver (and other latter-day prophets and apostles) have said, instead of relying on the scholars and educators who reject them, even more evidence will come forward.

Understanding the Mesomania issue helps with this process, as well. We don't blame anyone for perpetuating the Mesoamerican and other non-NewYork-Cumorah theories. We understand the intellectual history and the psychology involved. Nothing about this is personal.

But we seek clarity and all the new evidence explains things pretty well.

- Yes, Oliver Cowdery did unequivocally state in Letter VII that the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) was in New York.
- Yes, Joseph did assist in writing these historical letters, had them copied into his own history, and approved their republication.
- Yes, every other statement that can be directly attributed to Joseph supported Letter VII.
- Yes, Oliver did tell Brigham Young about the records repository in the Hill Cumorah.
- No, Joseph didn't write unattributed articles in the Times and Seasons, so we can throw those out.
- No, it's not possible, feasible (or even a good idea) to concoct an abstract map using the text without reference to Cumorah as a pin in the map because such an effort is inherently subjective and depends on subjective interpretations of every term used in the text.
- No, Joseph and Oliver were not merely speculating. Nor were all the other Latter-day prophets and apostles who have spoken about the New York Cumorah.

This is merely an overview of the growing supply of solid information.

Hence, the need to get our act together and stop promoting theories of geography that contradict the evidence, along with Joseph and Oliver and the other prophets and apostles.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Intellectual history of Book of Mormon geography

I posted a comment on the intellectual history of Book of Mormon geography on the Mesomania blog, here: http://mormonmesomania.blogspot.com/2016/10/intellectual-history-of-book-of-mormon.html

It's relatively long. It's the kind of material I have in my files, but people ask about this topic so there it is. I hope it's useful to you. Let me know what you think.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Thursday, October 27, 2016

In their own words

I think most members of the Church don't know what LDS scholars are actually teaching.

We're about to rectify that.

Starting today, my youtube channel features two series. One is titled "In Their Own Words" that shows you exactly what is being taught. The other is "How to find Mesomania in..." that shows you how to assess the various scholarly sources on the Internet.

It's an eye-opener, for sure.
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Thanks to Mesomania, nearly every member of the Church has had Meosamerica imprinted on his/her mind from childhood. The Arnold Friberg paintings are a big part of this, but the Mesoamerican theory has been taught from Primary through Institute. It's what is still being taught at BYU campuses, albeit not as overtly as in the past. Mesomania has even been featured in the Ensign.

This is not the fault of the thousands of faithful, diligent teachers in the Church. For starters, none of them have been taught about what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery actually wrote about the Hill Cumorah in Letter VII.

Go to lds.org and google "Letter VII" and you'll see what I mean.

[You'll get one result from the August 1990 Ensign in connection with Oliver Cowdery's discussion of Moroni's visit. You have to go to the bottom of the article and click on "Show references" to see it. It's in footnote 4, and it's a reference to the Messenger and Advocate. Unless you know how to do Church history research (and I show you how on youtube, here), you'll never find the original. Here's a link to my video explaining how to go through these steps. Go to 2:48 to start with lds.org.]

Fortunately, you can search for "Letter VII" in the Joseph Smith papers and read it directly from Joseph's own history!
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For whatever reason, LDS scholars and CES staff have successfully conveyed a false impression that the Church endorses a Mesoamerican setting, to the point that when faithful members of the Church want to discuss a North American setting, they are silenced, shunned, and ridiculed.

This behavior is unacceptable.

I'm going to provide some "ammunition" for those who are being treated this way.

If Mesoamerican advocates want to promote their ideas, fine. But they need to be up front in what they're really teaching, and they need to stop treating alternative perspectives--especially the statements of Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith--as if they are apostate.

That sounds strong, but people keep telling me that this is still going on. If you believe the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in New York, and you make that comment in your Sunday School, Seminary, Institute, or BYU class, chances are good that you will be rebuked or silenced. It's unbelievable, but try it and see what happens.

You're not offering your views to start an argument, but simply to explain what you believe. If necessary, you can emphasize that the Mesoamerican setting, based on the two-Cumorahs theory, is not Church doctrine and does not reflect Church policy, but we don't want to argue with anyone. We want to educate them, and let them think whatever they want, no problem.

But the ongoing suppression of Letter VII needs to end.

It's quite strange that it's okay for people to give firesides in chapels about Mesoamerica but not about the North American setting. Think about that one.

To be clear, I'm not saying that I think the Mesoamerican theory should also be suppressed.

In fact, I favor more exposure of the Mesoamerican position. I'd like everyone in the Church to compare the North American setting to the Mesoamerican setting. That's why I put a comparison table in my book, Mesomania. And on my consensus blog, here.

I think most members of the Church will be shocked to discover what has been going on for the last few decades in the academic realm of Book of Mormon geography.

It's not just that so many LDS scholars and CES staff have explicitly rejected Joseph Fielding Smith's views on this issue. I'm all in favor of academic freedom; people can believe and teach whatever they want.

But anyone who teaches in the Church has a very serious responsibility. Anyone who teaches the Book of Mormon and doesn't at least inform students about Letter VII, IMO, is doing the students a disservice.

Aside from the suppression of that important Church history, it is where the two-Cumorahs theories are leading the teachers--and their students--that is the more serious problem.
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 In addition to many websites, here are some of the books and articles we're going to go through.













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CES and Mesomania

There's a long post about CES on my Mesomania blog here. I point out that there is a lingering problem of Mesomania in the CES program that I hope can be rectified soon--and quickly.

I make three specific suggestions to CES that I hope will be considered.

Those of you who work for CES, let me know what you think. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Thoughts on contention

The topic of Book of Mormon geography can raise differences among people. Let's take it as a given that most people say they want to avoid contention, argument, debate, etc. This applies to their work, family, church, recreation, and other activities.

Jude describes what we should contend for:

Jude 1:3
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

That's the kind of contention that I've tried to conduct on this blog, my other blogs, and my articles and books.

Then there is another kind of contention that I seek to avoid:

3 Nephi 11:29-30
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
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Based on these and other passages, IMO it is important to contend for the faith and what is right, but it's just as important to do so without anger. 

Readers of this blog know that I think it's fun to have these exchanges. It's definitely frustrating that this whole thing about Cumorah not being in New York has gone on for so long, perpetuated by LDS scholars and educators, but there's no reason to get angry about it.

What's done is done.

It's up to us to take the initiative to fix it, all without anger. We're all brothers and sisters. We love one another. We're not angry because someone disagrees with us.

So when I write a piece titled "Fun with..." I mean that. There's no anger. We can all enjoy the discussion and hopefully move toward the day when we'll all see eye-to-eye.

And we can focus on the meaning of the text and it's origin, making us all better people.

Monday, October 24, 2016

More prophets and apostles for LDS scholars to reject

Current LDS scholars and educators who teach a Mesoamerican setting (or a Baja, Panama, Peru, or even a hypothetical or abstract setting) are rejecting every prophet and apostle who has ever addressed the location of Cumorah.

This scholarly approach is astonishing and not well known among active members of the Church, but it is well known among detractors. It's a major cause of confusion and loss of faith, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

I'm curious what the apostles and prophets would have to say to convince these LDS scholars and educators to change their minds about Cumorah and accept the New York setting, once and for all.

Seriously, this situation reminds me of the children of Israel rejecting their prophets.

I've pointed out many times that modern LDS scholars and educators reject not only Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII, but also Joseph Fielding Smith's warnings about the "two-Cumorahs" theory. You can see this for yourself in their publications (including on FairMormon, here, where the display of sophistry is breathtaking).

It's one thing to say the Church has no official position on Book of Mormon geography, and quite another to say that every latter-day prophet and apostle who has addressed the location of Cumorah was wrong.

There is plenty of room for discussion about Book of Mormon geography beyond Cumorah, but the Cumorah pin has been firmly placed in New York from the beginning through at least 1978.

I've discussed this on my youtube channel, as well.

Joseph Fielding Smith first made his warning in the 1930s, about the time LDS scholars were embracing the idea that the "real Cumorah" of Mormon 6:6 was in southern Mexico.

He repeated his warning in the 1950s when we was President of the Quorum of the Twelve.

No matter. The LDS scholars say he didn't know what he was talking about. As recently as last week, they continue to take this position.

In other words, if you (or your children or grandchildren) are being educated at a BYU campus or by CES and the topic of Book of Mormon geography comes up, they will almost certainly be taught that Cumorah is not really in New York, that Oliver Cowdery was speculating and lying, and that Joseph Fielding Smith didn't know what he was talking about.

I've discussed that more than enough on this blog. You all know this by now.

And the LDS scholars and educators freely admit it. They're proud of it!
______________

Here's more food for thought.

When Orson Pratt added the footnotes to the Book of Mormon in the 1879 edition, he correctly noted that the locations of Zarahemla, Lehi's landing, and other sites were not known, but were believed or thought to be in the places he mentioned.

Except he declared unequivocally that Cumorah was in New York. This is consistent with what Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and others taught from the outset.

Our LDS scholars are not only rejecting Joseph Smith and his contemporaries, along with Joseph Fielding Smith.

They are also rejecting more modern apostles, including Marion G. Romney and Mark E. Peterson.
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President Marion G. Romney. In the October 1975 General Conference, Marion G. Romney, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, stated that Cumorah was in New York. Here's the link where you can watch or read his talk: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1975/10/americas-destiny?lang=eng

"In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation.

"You who are acquainted with the Book of Mormon will recall that during the final campaign of the fratricidal war between the armies led by Shiz and those led by Coriantumr “nearly two millions” of Coriantumr’s people had been slain by the sword; “two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.” (Ether 15:2.)

"As the conflict intensified, all the people who had not been slain—men “with their wives and their children” (Ether 15:15)—gathered about that hill Cumorah (see Ether 15:11)....

"Thus perished at the foot of Cumorah the remnant of the once mighty Jaredite nation, of whom the Lord had said, “There shall be none greater … upon all the face of the earth.” (Ether 1:43.)

"As I contemplated this tragic scene from the crest of Cumorah and viewed the beautiful land of the Restoration as it appears today, I cried in my soul, “How could it have happened?”
...
"The tragic fate of the Jaredite and the Nephite civilizations is proof positive that the Lord meant it when he said that this “is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity.” (Ether 2:9.)"

[NOTE: those who don't know much about Pres. Romney should read a bio. He was a lawyer and he was widely recognized as a Book of Mormon scholar and spoke about the topic often in General Conference. The wikipedia entry is here.]
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Mark E. Peterson. In the October 1978 General Conference, Elder Mark E. Peterson reiterated that Cumorah was in New York. Here's the link you can watch or read: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1978/10/the-last-words-of-moroni?lang=eng

"Moroni’s father was commander of the armies of this ancient people, known as Nephites. His name was Mormon. The war of which we speak took place here in America some four hundred years after Christ. (See Morm. 6.)

"As the fighting neared its end, Mormon gathered the remnant of his forces about a hill which they called Cumorah, located in what is now the western part of the state of New York.

"Their enemies, known as Lamanites, came against them on this hill....

"When finished with the record, Moroni was to hide it up in that same Hill Cumorah which was their battlefield. It would come forth in modern times as the Book of Mormon, named after Moroni’s father, the historian who compiled it."

[NOTE: those who don't know much about Mark E. Peterson should read a bio. He was a prolific author. The wikipedia entry is here.]
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I hope every Latter-day Saint will take the time to recognize what is going on here. Current LDS scholars and educators actually think these prophets and apostles didn't know what they were talking about. 

On my youtube channel, I'll show you how to do your own research and how to respond to the scholars and educators who continue to advocate these non-New York theories, because I don't want you to take my word for it. Look up the references I've given in my books and blogs. Make your own decisions about this topic.

As for me, I have no problem accepting what all of these prophets and apostles have said about Cumorah because it fits so well with the text and all the accounts in Church history--not to mention the archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.

Awesome trip--tours in general

Yesterday we completed the inaugural Book of Mormon Chronology Tour, from Florida (Lehi's landing) to New York (Cumorah). My thanks and congratulations to everyone who participated, plus the guest speakers along the way.

It was an amazing trip for me, and I learned a lot from each of the participants. (We have our own separate pages for tour discussions, so I'm not going to talk about it on this blog.)

The trip was so awesome I want to say something about tours generally.
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Church history tours. During the trip, we shared a hotel with a Church history tour group. They were being told nothing about the abundant Book of Mormon connections to Church history in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and New York.

Same with the visitors to Church history sites, including visitors centers. It's extremely unfortunate, IMO. Can you imagine going all the way to Palmyra and standing on the Hill Cumorah and never even knowing what Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith said about what took place on and near that hill? About what Mormon observed when he was standing where you are?

We talked with a senior missionary who told us that just the day before, he was serving at the Hill Cumorah and he had some Mesoamerican advocate come up and insist this wasn't the "real" Hill Cumorah. The senior missionary had served his first mission in Ohio, so he knew what was going on with the Book of Mormon, and he told the visitor, but he didn't have Letter VII to use.

Now he does.

So if you're planning to go on a Church history tour, make sure it includes the Book of Mormon elements. If your guides and/or tour company don't even know about Letter VII, or if they reject it, don't go with them. You'll regret it otherwise because of all the things you'll miss out on.
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"Book of Mormon" tours to Central America. If you're thinking of taking a "Book of Mormon" tour to Central America, be sure to read Letter VII first and ask your guides and travel company what they think about it.

You'll get your answer real quick.

I've been to Central America several times and I enjoy visiting and learning about the ruins and modern cultures there. I enjoy the scuba diving and the beaches as well. So by all means, visit Central America. Just don't think you're going to be visiting any Book of Mormon sites when you're there.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Do your teachers accept or reject Letter VII?

People wonder what I want. I'm writing this and other blogs (hundreds of posts so far), as well as the books (not to mention a lot of speaking, youtube videos, and other activities), because I have two basic goals.

1. I would like to see every member of the Church read Letter VII (hopefully in 2016, but 2017 is okay too) and decide whether to accept or reject it. 

2. I would like every student (and every parent of students) in the Church to know if their teachers accept or reject Letter VII.

Here's why.
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1. Read Letter VII. When Joseph Smith was alive, every member of the Church knew (or should have known, if they could read English) about Letter VII, which unambiguously declares that the Hill Cumorah (the Mormon 6:6 Hill Cumorah) was in New York. The New York location of Cumorah was unambiguously declared in the footnotes of the official edition of the Book of Mormon from 1879 through 1920. It was only after all of Joseph's contemporaries died off that RLDS scholars, and later LDS scholars, rejected the New York setting. 

I think every member of the Church should know this history and the importance that Joseph and Oliver placed on this fact. After all, Joseph included it in D&C 128. He instructed his scribes to copy it into his own history, as you can see for yourself if you go to the Joseph Smith papers and search for "Letter VII." 

Think of this: we have entire books (and lesson manuals) full of what are purported to be the teachings of Joseph Smith, even though many of them are derived from a single mention in someone's journal. Or, worse, they are derived from anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons!

On the other hand, Letter VII was written with Joseph's assistance, included in his own history at his specific direction, republished with his express permission, and referenced in D&C 128, yet it appears nowhere in the books and manuals about the teachings of Joseph Smith. 

Ask yourself why.

2. What teachers think. Obviously, teachers have tremendous influence. Students deserve to know where their teachers are coming from. Let's say you're a student at any BYU campus. Do you know if your professor accepts or rejects Letter VII?

If not, you should ask.

Are you a student in Institute or Seminary? Do you attend a Gospel Doctrine class in your ward? Relief Society? Priesthood meeting? Primary? Young Women or Young Men? Do you know what your teachers think about Letter VII?

If not, you should ask.

The reason is directly related to the core beliefs of our religion. Oliver Cowdery was one of the three witnesses to the plates, but he was also the only witness other than Joseph to many of the most important events of the Restoration, including the restoration of the Priesthood, several revelations in the D&C, and the restoration of the keys in the Kirtland Temple. 

Detractors claim Oliver was not a reliable, credible witness; that's one of their reasons for rejecting the existence of the plates. (They say the same about all the witnesses, of course, but Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church and a special witness as mentioned in the previous paragraphy.)

This is what makes rejection of Letter VII so problematic when it is our own people--our own educators--who are rejecting Letter VII.
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I'll spell it out.

There are two groups of people who reject Letter VII on the grounds that Oliver Cowdery was merely speculating (or lying) when he said the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites tool place in New York: 

1. Those who claim the final battles did not take place in New York (this includes Mesoamerican advocates, Baja advocates, and advocates of Panama, Peru, Chile, Malaysia, Eritrea, etc.).

and

2. Those who claim the final battles did not take place at all (anti-Mormons, former Mormons, and anyone else who rejects the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon). 
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As always, I emphasize that this is not some kind of catechism. No one has to accept Letter VII. It's not a test of faithfulness or good standing, etc., and I don't want to imply that it is.

However, it is a serious question about how we approach Church history and the historicity of the Book of Mormon. 

In Joseph's day, everyone knew Cumorah was in New York. There is no ambiguity in Church history on this point, despite the attempts of modern LDS scholars to create some. 

You can believe the Book of Mormon took place somewhere else. But you should also recognize what the implications of your beliefs are, both for you and for those you teach. 

If you're a teacher in the Church, you need to be aware that students may have difficulty reconciling your rejection of Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII with your acceptance of everything else he wrote.

Just saying.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Joseph Fielding Smith rejected the two-Cumorahs theory

One of my favorite arguments from our friends who advocate a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon is their approach to Joseph Fielding Smith (JFS).

I mention Joseph Fielding Smith because he was the last President of the Quorum of the Twelve to specifically address Book of Mormon geography. 

He emphatically rejected the two-Cumorahs theory that most current LDS scholars and educators embrace. 

JFS was clear, but LDS scholars rejected him--twice--and they continue to reject him today. 

This leaves us with a simple choice, as explained at the end of this post.
What do you think?
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The two-Cumorahs theory is the basic premise behind the Mesoamerican geography that you have been taught your whole life by BYU/CES and Church media.

In my view, of course, that theory is false. It was developed by RLDS scholars in the 1920s and embraced by LDS scholars at BYU over the objection of Joseph Fielding Smith.

These scholars know Joseph Fielding Smith explicitly rejected their two-Cumorahs theory, as I've discussed on this blog many times.

But they don't want ordinary members to know that.

So, for example, on FairMormon they don't even tell readers what Joseph Fielding Smith actually had to say. Instead, they quote 30-year-old hearsay to justify their rejection of what he said.

For people who supposedly sustain the Prophets, Seers and Revelators of the Church, it's an audacious argument.
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Here's a fun experiment you can try. 

Ask your BYU/CES teacher or your ward's Mesoamerican advocate what he/she thinks of Joseph Fielding Smith.

If necessary, remind them that he was a President of the Church, a President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and an apostle for 60 years before becoming President. He was Church Historian and Recorder for 49 years (until he became President).

Remind them that he said the two-Cumorahs theory (the theory that the "real" Cumorah is in Southern Mexico) was false and would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.

(As an aside, that has proven to be a prophetic statement, as evidenced by any number of anti-Mormon or former Mormon blogs.)

If they have Mesomania, this is what your Mesoamerican advocate will tell you about Joseph Fielding Smith:

1) he didn't know what he was talking about and/or
2) he once said man would not land on the moon.

They may not even know that President Smith met with the Apollo astronauts and said he was wrong for having said men would not land on the moon. JFS readily acknowledged mistakes he had made when giving his opinions on various topics.

But instead of saying he made a mistake about the two-Cumorahs theory, he reiterated his position when he became President of the Quorum of the Twelve.
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Your BYU/CES teacher might refer you to FairMormon or one of the other so-called scholarly sites that promote Mesoamerica.

But don't let them avoid the question.

It really boils down to a simple choice:



Or, to be even more clear:



It doesn't get much more basic and clear than this.
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You might come across a BYU/CES scholar, or ward Mesoamerican advocate, who adopts the FairMormon hearsay approach that consists of this:

JFS said people can believe whatever they want.
Therefore, JFS changed his mind on the topic.

You don't have to go to law school to see the logical fallacy of that reasoning.

What is an Apostle supposed to do when he sets forth a clear, unambiguous position but the LDS scholars reject what he teaches? 

How about when he becomes President of the Quorum of the Twelve and reiterates his position, but the LDS scholars still reject what he teaches?

It's really not a question of what the scholars think. It's a question of what we think.

Our own Article of Faith 11 teaches:

11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

Joseph Fielding Smith couldn't tell people what they must think without violating this Article of Faith. He simply declared the truth and let people decide whether or not to accept it.

Joseph and Oliver did the same thing with Letter VII.

Just because LDS scholars have chosen to reject Letter VII and Joseph Fielding Smith (and so much more) doesn't mean you have to.

It's your choice.

Just make sure it's an informed choice.


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Moroni's America youtube channel

So many people asked for videos that we made a bunch. There are some on the Moroni's America youtube channel already, with more coming soon.

See what you think: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsM_rodh-bmZMfVuFIyKxjw

We like suggestions for future videos, too.

:)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Foreign language versions

Because so much traffic to this and my other blogs comes from non-English speaking countries, I've added google translate buttons.

Now, no matter what language you speak, you can have the full content easily translated into your native language.

Google does a great job with automatic translation, but there are a few errors from time to time. To introduce foreign-language readers to the North American setting, I've had a couple of posts translated to be posted on language-specific blogs. I'm doing some testing now but next week I'll post those links for anyone who would like to share them with people who speak Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and other languages as we add them.
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It has also occurred to me that Letter VII and other important Church history documents have never been translated outside of English.

The Joseph Smith Papers, for example, are available only in English. You can try to translate them online, but it's very difficult and involves a lot of cutting and pasting. Basically, you have to know English to navigate the pages and do searches. You can cut and paste specific text to translate it, but if you don't speak or read/write English, you can't really use the website.

If you want to try it, Letter VII is here. You plug the url into google translate and it will translate only the headings, not the text itself.

As I've mentioned, Letter VII appears nowhere on lds.org (except a single citation in a footnote on a point not related to Cumorah). There's an entire article on Cumorah that doesn't mention Letter VII, here.

There's another page in the media section that implies the Mormon 6:6 Cumorah is not the one in New York. Check it out here and see how carefully worded it is. Notice the distinction between the Book of Mormon "Cumorah" and the statement, "In our era, the Hill Cumorah is a drumlin-hill between the towns of Palmyra and Manchester, New York, where the gold plates... was unearthed."
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[While I'm on this topic, Cumorah isn't even mentioned in the Institute Course titled Religion 275, Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon. The cover of the manual gives us a nice view of Mesoamerican palm trees, though. The manual tries to avoid geography altogether. For example, on p. 100 there's a quotation by Ezra Taft Benson about "Christ's coming to America." Everywhere else, the manual refers to Christ's visit "to the Americas," plural. Well, except for the copyright page that states the manual was "Printed in the United States of America."

Seminary: The Seminary manual includes the term once, in this fascinating paragraph on p. 475:

"When and where was it written?

"Mormon likely wrote chapters 1–7 of this book between A.D. 345 and A.D. 401 (see Mormon 2:15–17; 8:5–6). He finished his writings after the final battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites at Cumorah in A.D. 385 (see Mormon 6:10–15; 7:1). Moroni probably wrote the material in chapters 8–9 between the years A.D. 401 and A.D. 421, as he wandered “for the safety of [his] life” (see Mormon 8:4–6; Moroni 1:1–3)."

Notice that Mormon "finished" his writings after the final battle at Cumorah. Of course, this doesn't answer the question of where Cumorah was. The manual doesn't mention that Oliver Cowdery wrote that Moroni told Joseph the account was "written and deposited" not far from his house. That means it was written not far from the Smith home near Palmyra. (This makes sense, since the repository of Nephite records in the hill Shim until Mormon moved the records to the hill Cumorah, so he would have had to do the abridgment somewhere near Joseph's home.)

Overall, the seminary manual does a good job covering some of the scriptures about Cumorah, but it still doesn't mention Letter VII (or Letter VIII), which tell us a lot about Cumorah.

Sunday School. The Sunday School manual has the Arnold Friberg-inspired Mayan temple on the cover (the same motif that we've seen incorporated in the logos of the Meosamerican advocacy groups). Lesson 43 covers Cumorah, but of course says nothing about where Cumorah is and does not mention Letter VII.

Fortunately, the manual suggests teachers use Friberg's painting "Mormon Bids Farewell to a Once Great Nation," which depicts both Mormon and Moroni on the Hill Cumorah in New York, next to a huge oak tree in the autumn. That's the solid, awesome painting that was removed from the missionary and foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon in 1981, replaced by the painting of Moroni, by himself, burying the plates at Cumorah in New York. The scholars approved that one because it is consistent with the two-Cumorahs theory, while the Friberg Cumorah painting repudiates the two-Cumorahs theory. If we're going to keep republishing the Friberg paintings set in the New World, why can't we republish his Cumorah painting, which is consistent with the text, instead of his jungle/pyramid paintings, which defy the text?
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The point of all of this is that you can be a diligent LDS student in seminary, institute, and Sunday School your entire life and never once learn that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith wrote and endorsed Letter VII, which contains the fundamental teaching that Cumorah was in New York. That "oversight" in the manuals leaves people vulnerable to the two-Cumorahs theory.
_________________

You can find Letter VII in various online sources, but again, you have to know English first.

And, of course, you can read it in context in my little book.

_________________

This is a long way of saying that even if you live in Utah and speak English, you have to exert some effort to learn about Letter VII. It was ubiquitous in Joseph's day; it is unknown in ours.

We can fix that. 

Just tell everyone you know to read Letter VII when your Sunday School class gets to Lesson 43.

Meanwhile, though, if it's that difficult to overcome the suppression of Letter VII by the scholars when you speak English, think of how difficult it would be to learn about it if you don't speak English.

Consequently, one of my first posts in the foreign language blogs translates the key portions of Letter VII.

From everything I can tell, the foreign language versions of this blog are the first time Letter VII has been formally translated into these other languages. 

So next week, when I publish the links to those blogs, share them with everyone you know who speaks those languages.

:)

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ask Gramps has Mesomania

In the last post I noted that AskGramps forgot to mention Letter VII. That was an answer given in 2008. Back then, hardly anyone knew about Letter VII because LDS scholars have suppressed it. You can't even find it mentioned on lds.org.*

Some people object when I say LDS scholars have suppressed Letter VII, but you can look at FairMormon and all the publications by BYU Studies, FARMS/Maxwell Institute, and the rest, and you won't find it mentioned anywhere.

To their credit, BookofMormonCentral have put it in their archive, but then they repudiate it with their KnoWhys. Their affiliates uniformly reject Letter VII, although they do it so obliquely that no one seems to notice.

So it's no wonder AskGramps never heard of it.

Whether ignorance is a defense is up to you, the reader, but in 2014, AskGramps pulled a full Mesomania and outright declared there are two Cumorahs!

The "two-Cumorahs" theory was developed by RLDS scholars in the 1920s. LDS scholars embraced the theory over the objection of Joseph Fielding Smith, and now AskGramps is relaying it to new generations. http://askgramps.org/hill-cumorah-really-new-york/

I bring this up because I still meet a lot of LDS members who have no idea that our LDS scholars are promoting the two-Cumorahs theory, thereby undermining the credibility and reliability of Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and David Whitmer.

IMO, AskGramps out to reconsider repeating the Mesomania-inspired theories of current LDS scholars. (Needless to say, I think the scholars should reconsider their theories, but that seems highly unlikely, given their years of allegiance to the two-Cumorahs theory. See the Mesomania book and blog for my thoughts on why this is.)

Check out what AskGramps has to say:

There are two Hill Cumorahs. Both of which were depositories of records of the Nephites. Unfortunately because the name and purpose are the same, it is very easy to confuse the two and assume that people are talking about one when they mean the other.
The first hill is the one which the Book of Mormon references and held the records that Mormon used to compile the Golden Plates near the end of the Nephite civilization. We don’t know exactly where this is, although somewhere in Mexico is a standard guess. The final war of the Nephites was fought near this Cumorah.
Moroni survived the war and had the charge to protect his father’s abridgment of the Nephite record (aka the Golden Plates). We don’t know how long Moroni lived afterwards. We do know from his record that Moroni was alone and hunted. He feared that if he was caught by the Lamanites he would be killed and the record destroyed. With that as a possible consequence, it seems very unlikely that he would risk returning to the lands ruled by the Lamanites.
Moroni did not record the length of his journey or where he traveled. He had limited space left on the plates and devoted that for things he thought would be more important to us.
The next record we have is Joseph Smith’s account of the angel Moroni’s visit. Joseph Smith was told by the angel Moroni that he had buried them in a nearby hill in New York. This means that the most likely way they got there was that Moroni traveled for years, alone and on the run, as the Lord guided him to the correct spot. Now how did this second hill get to be called Cumorah? I don’t know, but from what we see of the naming conventions in the Book of Mormon, it wouldn’t be all that hard to believe that Moroni would call the second hill in which the records were stored the same name as the first one, no matter the years and miles separating them.
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As long as we're talking about two-Cumorahs, you won't be surprised to learn that AskGramps has also signed on to the volcano nonsense.
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*Letter VII is cited in a footnote in an article that discusses what Moroni told Joseph, but it says nothing about Cumorah. This is the sole reference to Letter VII on the entire lds.org. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1990/08/moronis-message-to-joseph-smith?lang=eng

Apparently even Ask Gramps has never heard of Letter VII

I'm continually amazed at how few members of the Church are even aware of Letter VII. Oliver's letters were ubiquitous during Joseph's lifetime. Everyone knew about them; demand in England was so great that a special pamphlet was published that contained nothing but the letters.

Today, hardly any members of the Church have heard of Letter VII. Even fewer have read it.

The web page AskGramps didn't mention Letter VII in response to this question:

Have you found any reference where Joseph Smith actually called the hill of the golden plates Cumorah?


Since Oliver wrote Letter VII with the assistance of Joseph, and Joseph endorsed the letter by instructing his scribes to copy it into his history as part of his story, AskGramps should have let readers know about it.

Maybe next time.

The answer was pretty good anyway, so I'll copy it here for archive purposes:

Gramps,
Jerry Ainsworth has spent a lifetime on Book of Mormon archaeology. He supports the Central America theory and claims Joseph Smith never identified the place he got the records as Cumorah, even though later church leaders have. Have you found anywhere where Joseph actually called the hill of the golden plates Cumorah?
Gary, from Whitby. Ontario
Dear Gary,
Many others, in addition to Jerry Ainsworth, have spent their lives studying Book of Mormon archaeology, and they do not all agree with the Central America theory. That theory is indeed the most popular one, but it has a number of unresolved problems associated with it. Each of the other theories also have their own problems.
To the best of my knowledge, we have no first person record of Joseph Smith naming the hill from which he received the plates of the Book of Mormon. However, Only a small fraction of the words that Joseph Smith spoke were ever written down–and we can include in that fraction the scriptures that he revealed. There can be no other explanation for the Hill Cumorah being named what it was than that the name was given by Joseph Smith. All of his contemporaries used the name Cumorah for that hill, and there is no record of him refuting any of them. Had he done so, there no doubt would have been corrections made in the thinking and the writing of others. It is impossible to think that somebody else thought up that name and Joseph went along with it.
So I think that we can conclude with utmost confidence that Joseph received the name of that hill from the Angel Moroni. Therefore, the Hill Cumorah in New York State must stand as an a priori postulate for any reasonable archaeological theory relating to the Nephite culture. Here are just a few of the voluminous records that point to Joseph Smith as the originator of the name Cumorah—
“This angel delivered a message to Joseph Smith, and told him that in the Hill Cumorah there were buried golden plates containing a record of the forefathers of the American Indians” (Discourse of President Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, October 1919, Morning Session, p.21
“Joseph Smith visited by the angel Moroni and told of the Book of Mormon record. Joseph viewed the gold plates buried in a nearby hill” (Cumorah) (see Joseph Smith—History 1:27-54).
“The following is also taken from the history of the travels of the Kirtland Camp: ‘The camp passed through Huntsville, in Randolph County, which has been appointed as one of the stakes of Zion, and is the ancient site of the City of Manti, and pitched tents at Dark Creek, Salt Licks, seventeen miles” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, edited by Bruce R. McConkie, 3:, p.239)
Next we’ll find some archaeologist claiming that the Book of Mormon city, Manti, could not have been in Randolph County, Indiana.
Here’s a statement from our current prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley—
“Among these was Mormon, who in his day kept the chronicles of the nation. From these extensive records he had compiled on plates of gold an abridged record. This he had given to his son, Moroni, who survived the destruction of the Nephite nation at the hands of the Lamanites. Moroni, prior to his death, buried the record in the Hill Cumorah, where Joseph Smith received it some fourteen centuries later” (Gordon B. Hinckley, What of the Mormons? , p.78)
And again from Brigham Young —
“Persecution did not commence in Kirtland, nor in Jackson County, but it commenced at the time Joseph the Prophet sought the plates in the hill Cumorah” (Journal of Discourses, 2:, p.5)
Where do you think that Brigham Young could have come up with that identification of the Hill Cumorah, if not from Joseph Smith?
Another quote from Brigham Young—
“I have conversed with several of those men who say they have seen the plates that Joseph Smith took out of the hill Cumorah; I have also conversed with Joseph Smith, who has told me of these things and many more that it would be unnecessary on the present occasion to relate” (Journal of Discourses, 10:, p.131).
Relative to the things that the Lord promised the Three Witnesses that they were entitled to see, we have this interesting account also preserved for us by Brigham Young—
“When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did” (Journal of Discourses, 19:38).
In this regard, those who refute the location of the Hill Cumorah as being in upper New York State are necessarily impugning the veracity of the Angel Moroni.
Gramps 


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Benefits of Moroni's America - Cumorah

People ask what difference the geography makes. In a series of posts, I'm going to discuss some of the benefits of the North American setting, which goes under several terms, including Moroni's America and the Heartland model.

Let's start with Cumorah.
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Imagine you're visiting Palmyra to learn about the origins of the Church.

Imagine you are 10 years old. Or 15. Or 18-19, getting ready to serve a mission.

Or imagine you have your kids with you. Or your grandchildren.

You stop at the Joseph Smith farm and the Sacred Grove. You learn about the visit of Moroni to Joseph Smith and how he walked to the hill Moroni showed him in vision.

Now, drive south from the Joseph Smith farm.
You leave the Joseph Smith farm and drive to Cumorah

Have someone read out loud what Oliver Cowdery wrote in Letter VII:

You are acquainted with the mail road from Palmyra, Wayne Co. to Canandaigua, Ontario Co. N. Y. and also, as you pass from the former to the latter place, before arriving at the little village of Manchester, say from three to four, or about four miles from Palmyra, you pass a large hill on the east side of the road. Why I say large, is, because it is as large perhaps, as any in that country. To a person acquainted with this road, a description would be unnecessary, as it is the largest and rises the highest of any on that route. The north end rises quite sudden until it assumes a level with the more southerly extremity, and I think I may say an elevation higher than at the south a short distance, say half or three fourths of a mile. As you pass toward Canandaigua it lessens gradually until the surface assumes its common level, or is broken by other smaller hills or ridges, water courses and ravines. I think I am justified in saying that this is the highest hill for some distance round, and I am certain that its appearance, as it rises so suddenly from a plain on the north, must attract the notice of the traveller as he passes by.

You arrive at the Hill Cumorah and drive to the top
At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed.

From the top of the hill, you look west as Oliver Cowdery did and see the ridge a mile away.

By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the Book of Mormon, you will read Mormon's account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. (It is printed Camorah, which is an error.) In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites—once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. 

From the air, over the ridge to the west, you look back at the hill Cumorah and see the battlefield.


From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope, or doubt. A few had fled to the South, who were hunted down by the victorious party, and all who would not deny the Savior and his religion, were put to death. Mormon himself, according to the record of his son Moroni, was also slain.

But a long time previous to this national disaster it appears from his own account, he foresaw approaching destruction. In fact, if he perused the records of his fathers, which were in his possession, he could have learned that such would be the case. Alma, who lived before the coming of the Messiah, prophesies this. He however, by Divine appointment, abridged from those records, in his own style and language, a short account of the more important and prominent items, from the days of Lehi to his own time, after which he deposited, as he says, on the 529th page, all the records in this same hill, Cumorah, and after gave his small record to his son Moroni, who, as appears from the same, finished it, after witnessing the extinction of his people as a nation.

Oliver Cowdery, Letter VII.
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That's what you experience if you understand the North American setting and you believe Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, David Whitmer, etc.

It's an awesome experience to walk in Book of Mormon lands this way, right in western New York.
_______________________

Alternative experience.

Or, if you believe in the non-New York theories (Mesoamerica, Baja, Panama, Peru, Chile, Malaysia, etc.) you can walk into the Visitors Centers and find some confirmation of your theories. You will be told, based on the work of our LDS scholars, that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were speculating, that they were wrong, and that they adopted a false tradition about Cumorah being in New York.

Okay, that's not actually part of the script.

In fact, most missionaries in New York that I've spoken do don't believe the LDS scholars and their Mesoamerican theories, despite what they have to tell visitors.

But the Mesoamerican setting is implicit in the Pageant and everything else in the Visitors Centers.

One thing is for sure: the script and the displays don't mention Letter VII. 

There are no displays of Cumorah as the scene of the final battles, no quotations of Mormon 6:6, etc.
The "real Cumorah," you'll be informed, is somewhere in southern Mexico, as shown in this artwork:

Alma baptizing near the "thicket of small trees" somewhere in the Mesoamerican jungle.

The Savior appearing to Mayans in Mesoamerica among massive stone temples, which has nothing to do with the text of the Book of Mormon or the Nephites.
_______________________

Bottom line: The benefit of the North American setting is you can appreciate the text the same way Joseph and Oliver and David did. You can walk where Mormon and Moroni and their people did.


Prophets vs scholars

The question of Book of Mormon geography boils down to Cumorah, and the Cumorah question boils down to the difference between prophets and scholars.

Which do you follow?
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One of the key premises of the "two-Cumorahs" theory* is that Joseph Smith adopted a false tradition started by someone, presumably Oliver Cowdery, that the hill in New York was the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.

This is the way the scholars rationalize away Letter VII, David Whitmer's discussion of Cumorah, D&C 128, etc. Then Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, George Albert Smith, and others (not to mention all of Joseph Smith's contemporaries) also relied on this false tradition.

How do we know the New York Cumorah is a false tradition?

Because current LDS scholars say so.

Seriously.

Important note: I don't intend to offend anyone with this blog entry; if I'm wrong in any respect, I hope someone will correct me. I'd be happy to edit this post if I've misstated anything. Plus, I would very much like to know about any current LDS scholars (including BYU/CES educators) who accept the New York Cumorah and reject the two-Cumorahs theory.

This two-Cumorahs theory is the argument that underlies the limited-geography Mesoamerican theory that is the "consensus" among LDS scholars and educators. (Ask around if you don't already know this. Some people who believe the Mesoamerican setting don't realize it depends on the two-Cumorahs theory, but it does.)

The scholars say it's more important to listen to the scholars who currently advise the Brethren than to listen to the prophets themselves.

I'm not kidding. This approach is implicit in everything they write about Mesoamerica. If you read FairMormon, FARMS/Maxwell Institute, the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, and the rest, their theories of geography all rely on the two-Cumorahs theory.

Here's a graphic I use in some of my presentations.


A few days ago, the Mormon Leaks channel on Youtube released videos of several presentations given to the Quorum of the Twelve. The Deseret News summarized the leaked videos here. You can see the videos here.

What Mesoamerican advocates say is, you should listen to the advisers, not the prophets, seers, and revelators.
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Really, the question of Book of Mormon geography is quite simple. 

And it all starts with Cumorah, the pin in the map that connects Book of Mormon geography with modern geography.

In my view, it is the two-Cumorahs theory that is false.

It's a binary decision. Either Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) is in New York, or it's not. (And if it's not, does it even matter where it is?)

The only question is, what do you think?
______________________

NOTE: *The "two-Cumorahs" theory holds that the hill in New York currently named Cumorah (the Church-owned hill where the Pageant is held every year) is not the Cumorah mentioned in Mormon 6:6. That Cumorah is somewhere in southern Mexico, or Baja, or somewhere in South America, or Africa, or Asia. The only consistent claim of the "two-Cumorahs" theory is that it cannot be in New York. This theory originated with RLDS scholars in the 1920s and was adopted by LDS scholars over the specific objection of Joseph Fielding Smith.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Make Cumorah Great Again

It's time to Make Cumorah Great Again.


You might be surprised that this is necessary, but the prevailing view among LDS scholars is that the hill in New York has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon text. According to them, that hill is merely the unnamed location where Moroni concealed the plates and other artifacts that Joseph found in 1823.

Supposedly Moroni hauled these items over 3,000 miles from the "real" Cumorah in southern Mexico.

I know that makes no sense, but that's what you are supposed to believe if you read the scholarly works by professors employed by, affiliated with, or trained at BYU.*

If you're a student at any of the BYU campuses right now, ask your professors what they think and you'll see what I mean. Don't just ask your religion professors. Ask your psychology, English lit, or math professors.

If you're in a CES program, your instructors were probably also trained at BYU and also think that Cumorah is in southern Mexico. They're not supposed to teach that, but many of them do.

They can believe whatever they want. We all can.

But don't let this teaching go unchallenged.
____________________________

On September 6, 1842, Joseph Smith wrote an epistle to the Saints. He sent it to the editor of the Times and Seasons for publication.** Later, the epistle was canonized as D&C 128.

The heading describes the contents of the final few verses:

18–21, All of the keys, powers, and authorities of past dispensations have been restored; 22–25, Glad and glorious tidings are acclaimed for the living and the dead.

Verse 20 refers to Cumorah:

20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from CumorahMoroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed.

The scholars have two ways to explain this verse.

First, they say Joseph adopted a false tradition started by unknown early Saints (presumably Oliver Cowdery). This false tradition gave the name "Cumorah" to the hill in New York based on speculation. The scholars say that hill cannot be the real Cumorah. They say Joseph had no idea where the Book of Mormon events occurred, so he went along with a false tradition and now it's in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Second, they say Joseph was paying homage to the hill in Mexico.

If you find these interpretations difficult to believe, good. But ask your instructors/professors about Cumorah. Usually they try to avoid the question, but if you persist, they'll give you one of those two answers. (If they come up with another one, let me know.)

Teaching moment: You can educate your instructors/professors by citing Letter VII, which Joseph and all of his contemporaries knew very well. Not a single member of the Church who lived when Joseph did was unaware that Cumorah was in New York.

The real false tradition about Cumorah started in the 1920s and was adopted by LDS scholars over the objection of Joseph Fielding Smith, then Church Historian and a member of the Twelve for 20 years. President Smith reiterated his objection when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve, but LDS scholars ignored him again.

And they still do today.

[Note: If you don't what what Letter VII is, read this book or go to this blog. Or go to the Joseph Smith Papers and search for Letter VII.]
_____________________________

Here are some classic quotations from Mesomania as examples:

“we further declare that the somewhere of the Book of Mormon is the geographic territory known as Mesoamerica, which, in general, involves territory from Mexico City on the north to the western parts of El Salvador and Honduras on the south. We maintain that all the actual New World events of the Book of Mormon took place within that territory.[i]

There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites traipsing across the Mississippi Valley to New York, pursued (why?) by hundreds of thousands of Lamanites, is a scenario worthy only of a witless sci-fi movie, not of history.”[ii]

“Although Joseph Fielding Smith was adamant in his opinon, the data upon which the opinion was based are not nearly as strong as his statement suggests.… The New York hill cannot be the Cumorah described in the text… Rather than being able to use Joseph as the foundation of the naming tradition, it is easier, according to the evidence of history, to see Joseph as accepting the tradition.”[iii]



[i] Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (bmaf.org), a division of Book of Mormon Central, a web page maintained by the Ancient America Foundation which has promoted the Mesoamerican setting for decades.
[ii] John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex (Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU, 2015), p. 688.
[iii] Brant A. Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers (Greg Kofford Books), pp. 378-379

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*There are some BYU-affiliated scholars who believe Cumorah is in New York, but the ones I'm aware of focus on Church history. Maybe there are others, but in my experience, and based on what many people are telling me, the vast majority of BYU-affiliated scholars reject the New York Cumorah.

**There has been a long-held belief that Joseph was the acting editor of the Times and Seasons during this period. That belief was based on a historical mistake. The fact that he sent the letter to the actual editor for publication is just one of many pieces of evidence that demonstrate that Joseph was not editing the newspaper; in fact, he had little to do with it after April 1842. This is all discussed at length in The Lost City of Zarahemla and Brought to Light.